Visibility in airborne volcanic ash: considerations for surface transportation using a laboratory-based method
All modes of surface transportation can be disrupted by visibility degradation caused by airborne volcanic ash. Despite much qualitative evidence of low visibility on roads following historical eruptions worldwide, there have been few detailed studies that have attempted to quantify relationships between visibility conditions and observed impacts on network functionality and safety. In the absence of detailed field observations, such gaps in knowledge can be filled by developing empirical datasets through laboratory investigations. Here, we use historical eruption data to estimate a plausible range of ashsettling rates and ash particle characteristics for Auckland city, New Zealand. We propose and implement a new experimental set-up in controlled laboratory conditions, which incorporates a dual-pass transmissometer and solid aerosol generator, to reproduce these ash-settling rates and calculate visual ranges through the associated airborne volcanic ash. Our findings demonstrate that visibility is most impaired for high ash-settling rates (i.e.[500 g m-2 h-1 ) and particle size is deemed the most influential ash characteristic for visual range. For the samples tested (all\ 320 lm particle diameter), visibility was restricted to * 1–2 m when ash settling was replicated for very high rates (i.e. * 4000 g m-2 h-1 ) and was especially low when ash particles were fine-grained, more irregular in shape and lighter in colour. Finally, we consider potential implications for disruption to surface transportation in Auckland through comparisons with existing research which investigates the consequences of visual range reduction for other atmospheric hazards such as fog. This includes discussing how our approach might be utilised in emergency and transport management planning. Finally, we summarise strategies available for the mitigation of visibility degradation in environments contaminated with volcanic ash.